Rita Martorell: Seeing Double

At first glance the erotically charged images of the young Catalan painter Rita Martorell are troubling since they suggest two meanings simultaneously. This makes their reading a challenging interactive experiment of interpretation all the more fascinating because the digitally altered images are based on photographs of real things and real people transformed by the artist’s imagination. Thus the double entendre is itself doubled leading to a conflation of interdependent meanings.

Both of the new large scale groups of works in the show involve suggestive multivalent images whose interpretation depends on the viewer’s subjective psychology and experience. Both involve photographic transformation and digital imaging. One group is based on the figurative works on paper the artist has produced over the last decade transformed into monumental compositions of tattooed figures. The other presents mysterious erotically charged images resembling Rohrsach gestalts devised from symmetrical inkblots developed for psychological testing. These are monochrome in rose to violet range and feature exaggerated chiaroscuro lighting. Their origin in the pastel colored sheets she was given embroidered with the name Rita embroidered on then is not evident until the artist identifies the source of the astonishing, bizarre and sometimes grotesque images, all of which have strong associations with skin and body parts.

What we see of course is what we project from our own subconscious. To some, they may look like images of copulation or childbirth, to others, bandaged wounds. And perhaps to the literal minded they could look like messy beds. The idea that vague forms could be interpreted in many ways was initially put forth by Leonardo da Vinci in his Treatise on Painting as “a way of enhancing and arousing the mind to various inventions”. Leonardo advised looking into stains or clouds for inspiration He thought no subject inappropriate. “The person who does not love to the same degree all things present in the art of painting will not be a Universalist,” he wrote giving as an example Botticelli’s example of throwing a sponge soaked with various colors against a wall to make a stain, which could evoke many different associations:“If it is true that in this stain various inventions can be discerned, or rather what one wants to find in it, such as battles, reefs, seas, clouds, forests and other similar things, then surely, this is like the ringing of bells in which one can understand whatever one wants to.”

According to Leonardo, stains or rock formations could suggest landscapes “with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, extensive plains, valleys, and hills” So multiple were the meanings such amorphous blots could suggest that Leonardo believed that looking at them ”.You can even see different battle scenes and movements made up of unusual figures, faces with strange expressions, and myriad things which you can transform into a complete and proper form constituting part of similar walls and rocks.” The imagination would transform stains on walls, the ashes from the fire, the clouds, the mud, or other similar places. into fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, animals, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like.” Some 500 years later, Rita Martorell would take Leonardo’s advice to heart in a series of works that insinuate dream imagery and are based on the place where people dreamlike. wrapped in sheets. Whether the dreams are sweet or nightmares depends on who is looking at her provocative mysterious images.

Rita Martorell Coderch was born on March 29, 1971 in Zurich Switzerland and grew up in Olot a coastal town in the Catalan province of Gerona. She studied in the prestigious Barcelona art and design school La Massana. Through their program abroad she was able to study in France in 1993 at the Ecole de Beaux Art in Saint- Etienne where she began to experiment with engraving lithography and photography fascinated by the elegant decadent imagery of Redon and Egon Schiele. In 1994, she continued her art education in Strasbourg at the Ecole des arts decoratifs where she continued to make prints and began to concentrate on drawings. While in Strasbourg she became acquainted with German expressionism and traveled throughout Germany where she became familiar with the work of Rebecca Horn, Joseph Beuys and Sophie Calle. However, though she admired these conceptual artists who utilize real objects she continued to prefer the traditional techniques of painting and drawing.

Back in Spain, in Madrid she studied sculpture at the Escuela de Artes y Oficios where crafts such as photography and printmaking were taught. She continued to paint and to sculpt becoming increasingly interested in volume and its relationship to space while she also studied at the Escuela de Arte 10 de Madrid; continuing to investigate photography and digital techniques. She made series and sequences of photo engravings and silkscreens based on her attraction to mainly American artists such as Warhol, Johns, Rosenquist, Rauschenberg and Keith Haring as well as the German Gerhard Richter, whose works were widely reproduced if not widely seen in Spain.

Today an artist may chose any subject, any medium, and any type of obsession. Yet it is precisely this limitless freedom that becomes problematic. Rita Martorell searched, as every artist must, for a personal style and an individual vision; she had the advantage of a special gift for creating convincing contours and capturing life. She handles ink, graphite, gouache and watercolor with assurance. The energy of her strokes and lines communicates a lively kinetic response to the active human form in space. The freshness of her quick sketches of landscape and the ability to capture likeness in a few deft strokes in her portraits is impressive.

Hers is a natural talent for both painting and sculpture. What she does with it and how she uses her gifts depends on the choices she makes at a moment when there are no rules to guide the artist in pursuit of meaningful contemporary content. Her work exhibits not only a technical brilliance but an intellectual interest in psychology and sociology which has permitted her to access other types of imagery that bring together Leonardo’s stain with modern methods of psychological examination such as the Rorschach test. Based on inkblots , the Rorschach test is a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect an underlying thought disorder, named for discoverer, Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach who created the Rorschach inkblot test in 1921.

After studying hundreds of mental patients and control subjects, in 1921 Rorschach wrote his book Psychodiagnostik. He selected a set of ten for their diagnostic value In 1927, the newly-founded Hans Huber publishing house purchased Rorschach's book. Each of the blots has near perfect bilateral symmetry. In the free association phase, the tester presents them one at a time in a set sequence for the subject to study: The general goal of the test is to provide data about cognition and personality variables such as motivations, response tendencies, cognitive operations, affectivity, and personal/interpersonal perceptions. The underlying assumption is that an individual will class external stimuli based on person-specific perceptual sets, and including needs, base motives, conflicts, and that this clustering process is representative of the process used in real-life situations.

Systems for Rorschach scoring generally include a concept of "determinants": These are the factors that contribute to establish the similarity between the inkblot and the subject's content response about it. They represent certain basic experiential-perceptual attitudes, showing aspects of the way a subject perceives the world. Form is the most common determinant, and is related to intellectual processes; color responses often provide direct insight into emotional life. Shading and movement have been considered more ambiguously, both in definition and interpretation: The crumpled forms in Rita Martorell’s bed linens suggest bodily parts not only in the way they deliberately arranged by the artist but also because the extreme chiaroscuro she created through focused lighting creates the illusion of dramatic three dimensional form, another idea she borrows from Leonardo da Vinci.

From Rorschach experiments she may have learned that more than one determinant can contribute to the formation of the subject's perception, and fusion of two determinants is taken into account, while also assessing which of the two constituted the primary contributor e.g. "form-color" implies a more refined control of impulse than "color-form". In this context, the artist’s series of differently configured bed linens can be considered a set of Rorschach images that if the viewer’s responses were recorded would reveal an amazing amount of personal information because it would expose every conceivable type of psychological bias. Fortunately one can enjoy these works and the game of interpretation as well as their formal and dramatic imagery in private. (No one needs to know what you are thinking while you look which contributes the sense of privacy, intimacy and also voyeurism that is also typical of the experience of looking at the tattooed figures who inhabit a secret underground world) And indeed since the images are so intentionally multivalent, our responses remain in the emotional rather than thecritically intellectual sector.

Both sets of images suggest possibly painful experience such as wounding or penetration which may be alternatively associated pleasurable experience such as the orgasmic images of the sheets or the masochistic attraction of being tattooed, and the idea that tattooed people are involved in “kinky” aberrant sexuality. being nightmare... or the sexual allusion, pregnancy, orgasm. The large images of symmetrical Rorschach type imagery are particularly disquieting, they suggest dread nightmare. or the sexual penetration which may be violent thus invoking the nightmare of rape, the pain of pregnancy, or the pleasure of orgasm. Sheets in and of themselves have various associations. Babies are bundled in them and the dead are wrapped in them. They touch our skin as we sleep. We spend much of our lives between them and of course they are inevitably associated not only with dreaming but also with sex.

There are precedents for the use of ambiguous multivalent images to stir the imagination and to present problematic configurations. Inspired by Rorschach, Salvador Dali believed that paranoid schizophrenics see more than the rest of us do because they have the hallucinatory power to see dual images. He set out to formulate a method by which he could consciously induce a similar state of delirium. He called it the paranoiac-critical method, which he defined as "a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the critical and systematic objectification of delirious associations and interpretations."

Dali employs a lucid dream technique by using an almost Old Master precisionist style. Latent subtext of sexual fears and anxieties comes through even in the manifest content. In psychic automatism, the term Dali invented for his process of plumbing the unconscious, through the undirected play of thought, one image metamorphosizes into another. Dali deliberately induced paranoiac vision through a system based on delirium and irrationality that plays on a figure/ground double reading of the latent vs. manifest content. Dali described this process in his treatise titled "Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to his own Madness.”. Miro, another Catalan, once said that a Spaniard does not need to be a Surrealist because he is already irrational However it was surrealism that officially embraced the aesthetic of "convulsive beauty" and the "marvelous," drawn from dream imagery and a Freudian-inspired exploration of the unconscious.

While Salvador Dali ended up in the movies making film sequences for Hitchcock and Walt Disney, Rita Martorell, an avid film fan, starts there As a natural part of her Catalan culture Rita Martorell would be acquainted with Dali’s theories. As for the relevance of the Rorschach experiments to her work, we know that in the mid-1990s experiments inspired by his inkblot experiments focused on indices measuring narcissism, disordered thinking, and discomfort in close relationships. These are the specific intense reactions that Rita Martorell’s bed linen series evoke. Her seriess of enlarged photographs of beds with pink or violet sheets seen from above have practically nothing to do with the linen covering the beds. Our eyes look for an identifiable object, but everything has been reshaped and has taken an abstract, vague and unreal look.

The folds of cushions and sheets, the wrinkles, the lights and shadows, all allude to images that can be understood and presented through the suggestion of Rorschach tests The sheet is also a mystical image incarnated in the shroud of Turin, a mysterious double image. .Was this the shroud that wrapped Jesus’ body or is it in the imagination of the spectator that sees the holy imprint? Infants are swaddled in sheets as the dead are shrouded in them. Thus sheets are both Eros and Thanatos. Reality turns out to be much more hallucinatory, irrational, and subject to personal desire and paranoia than it is objective. Dali pits the rational, reasoning mind against the imaginative and fantastic, and it is the poetry of the unconscious and a "convulsive beauty" that win in the end. This is the aesthetic that informs Rita Martorell’s works as well.

As for the influence of film on her work, while living in France as an art student, she became an avid film fan, and cinema remained a central interest when she returned to Barcelona she began to think of film as an inspiration for her work because of its ability to evoke strong emotions. Through collage she first introduced images that she developed in her compositions. But she felt that the scenes, dialogue, and music of cinema were more immediate than collage. She wanted this intensity and contemporaneity in her own work which is why she began to study reproductive techniques that would allow the kind of fusion that is possible with film montage.

In the group of works based on tattooed bodies she was finally able to fuse her traditional talent for drawing with the techniques and approach of new media through digital processes. To create the double images of the drawn figures in motion and the photographed tattooed figures she creates in the virtual space of the computer to which she transfers both the drawings and the photographs. Her search for a subject that was intimate, intense, related to skin as the sheets are related to skin and the body lead her to investigate the popular urban hangouts in Madrid where sensation seeking youths gather. She became fascinated by the elaborate tattoos that many of these young people used as body adornment. She searched for subjects with complex tattoos that interested her and then persuaded them to adopt the positions she had depicted in her drawings. She then photographed the tattooed figures, standing, reclining, kneeling, etc, with a digital camera. These images were then downloaded on to her computer along with the digitized images of the drawings, thus providing her with the requisite image bank she needed to realize the current series of figurative works. Through a process of assembly and layering. Often it was the fragment of a body part that dominated the work.

As a child of the twenty first century, Rita Martorell is not shackled by the conventions that characterize the religious art of the past. But this freedom to represent nude models--out of question in puritanical Spain except for a few important exceptions (for example Alonso Cano’s Descent into Hell) until modern times, Her interest in figures in motion as opposed to the frozen poses of the past brings with it other challenges. Her brush drawings are expressive summaries of bodies in motion that remind us of Rodin's watercolors and Georgia O'Keeffe's early nude studies.

Although she has done commissioned portraits in a traditional style, her personal work focuses on the nude body. The difference between the naked and the nude was originally discussed by Kenneth Clark caused in his classic study The Nude . Taking issue with the prevailing formalist accounts of nudity in art, Clark cited an influential passage from Samuel Alexander’s Beauty and Other Forms of Value in which erotic arousal was deemed irrelevant to aesthetics: “If the nude is so treated that it raises in the spectator ideas or desires appropriate to the material subject, it is false art, and bad morals”. For Clark, this “high-minded theory is contrary to experience…no nude, however abstract, should fail to arouse in the spectator some vestige of erotic feeling, even although it be only the faintest shadow—and if it does not do so, it is bad art and false morals. The desire to grasp and be united with another human body is so fundamental a part of our nature, that our judgment of what is known as ‘pure form’ is inevitably influenced by it”.

Art historians and artists are increasingly interested in issues of what we might term “viewer arousal”. The nude has been central to those enquiries. At what point does sensuality become sexuality? depersonalized In “interactive” art , empathy goes hand in hand with antipathy. François Quiviger, a scholar at the Warburg Institute, has written a recent book on The Sensory World of Italian Renaissance Art that explores Renaissance theories of the five senses, illustrating how these theories operate in works of art, firing the imagination and influencing the behavior of the viewer.

Quiviger is fascinated by the paradox that, while Italian Renaissance art may be more naturalistic than medieval art, it exhibits an increased reticence in the depiction of human suffering, especially that of Christ during his Passion. He believes that Renaissance viewers became so attuned to the idea that the human figure is a sensitive entity that they could no longer tolerate blood and wounds without distaste and Crucifixion only became a central subject of Christian art in the ninth century because the gory spectacle of the death of God was already felt to be unpalatable. the worshipper was going to simulate Christ’s suffering with self-flagellation,

The association of the body with pain has been examined by a series of artists who have practiced what has come to be known as “body art”. Common forms of body art are tattoos and body piercings, but other types include scarification and branding. . Artists like Dennis Oppenheim began to perform operations on their own skin in body art actions. One of Dennis Oppenheim's better-known works pictured him lying in the sunlight with a book on his chest, until his skin, excluding that covered by the book, was badly sunburned. This focus on skin which Martorell examines is anticipated by Jasper Johns series of imprints made from parts of his own body in a series of drawings titled Skin. Among the works belonging to this series is a life size charcoal featuring impression of the artist’s own body. Johns turning away from impersonal pop icons to images of body and skin imprints forecasts future developments as younger artists tired of the impersonality of pop iconography and began to focus on more personal and intimate themes.

Along with these new interest came the growth of Performance art, in which artists use or abuse their own body to make their particular statements. Totally Wired a group show recently seen at London's ICA, brings together a wide cast of international artists whose work who explore the nature of the human body in today's technological age. For some this means an attempt to transcend the corporeal, for others human flesh is as vulnerable and visceral as ever. Rita Martorell never subjects her own body to masochist practice but her descent into the hell of the world of the tattooed is a vicarious experience of body art she shares with us. That the works she produces depend on advanced technology makes them all the more relevant.

Recently as narcissism becomes a more widely diffused personality disorder the body has become a subject of much broader discussions and treatments that cannot be reduced to the body art in its common understanding. Important strategies that question the human body are: implants, body in symbiosis with the new technologies, virtual body etc. Like the tattooed people, French carnal artist Orlan uses her own body as her canvas but her art is more extreme: a scalpel as her brush. Her shocking depiction of plastic surgery is exacerbated by the fact that she stays awake for her many surgeries (using only local anesthetics) and talks while the surgery is being performed. She later presents these videos at performance art exhibits.

Orlan's uses the highly personal medium of cosmetic surgery to make a dramatic public statement about beauty, identity and medical intervention. Orlan is deeply involved with how the external appearance of the body affects our sense of ourselves and the empowerment granted by modern technology to exert who we are by realigning our external appearance. She calls her work “carnal art”. Orlan writes on her website, “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic-surgery result, but in the process of surgery, the spectacle and discourse of the modified body which has become the place of a public debate.” Interesting in its subject matter and horrific in its execution and reality, Orlan’s work has become a focal point in the discussion of performance art and viable mediums of expression. Is Orlan’s over the top approach at expressing her beliefs on surgery and the female body effective? Or is her depiction simply another example of sensational exhibitionism on the part of a self proclaimed artist desperately attempting to achieve attention and notoriety? Orlan would argue that narcissism is a necessary component of artistry, and that all artists are innate exhibitionists–which makes her guilty of nothing. Moreover, Orlan claims that her message itself is not anti-surgery in nature.

Through her early experiments with collage Rita Martorell first introduced images that she developed in her drawings. She conceived of a way to create a new kind of image that fused the representations of figures she had drawn with photographs of tattooed bodies that she arranged in the same poses.

The series of Tattoos was inspired by her search for contemporary images related to the immediate culture and presented in a thoroughly contemporary idiom. In her search for a new kind of figurative image she noticed that many people were using their own skin as the surface for drawings by having themselves tattooed. She found many used tattooing as a kind of vanity or fashion accessory but as she started focusing on tattoos she realized that there was an entire urban tattoo street culture with roots in techno music, hip-hop and rap that was related to the furtiveness of graffiti art. She started talking to these people, listening to their life stories of rebellion and marginalization. For these people the tattoos were not just decorations but personal symbols and messages expressing their inner beings.

Before beginning this series she researched the history of tattoo art. The introduction of tattooing in the West came from cultures that were considered savage or barbaric. At first those who widely practiced tattooing in the West were sailors, beachcombers and explorers. Since the tattoo was an identifier of the outcasts of society it also became a symbol for that outside culture. In homosexual culture bikers and sailors who are covered with tattoos are identified as “rough trade’, potentially dangerous hyper macho symbols the opposite of femininity. Today many women sport tattoos. Outcasts, rebels and marginal alienated people embrace the tattoo and the practice has become a way of identification and right of inclusion into the outsider community, just as the tattoo was a rite of passage and/or a symbol of identification in ancient cultures.

Tattooing has moved from being a symbol of the outcast to that of the popular rock star, model and postmodern youth and the new shift in public acceptance of the tattoo brings with it a shift in meaning as well. The tattoo has now moved from “stigma to status”. The exposure to tattoos on television and other media, usually tattooed celebrities, has something to do with society’s middle-class acceptance of tattoos. The outcast tattooed culture and the middle class nos in the middle, and allowed tattoos into the popular culture and the world of the tattooed becomes is own urban subculture often associated with danger and violence in prevalence of tattoos in street gangs and prisoners. Thus the association of the tattoo with the forbidden and with transgression that titillates the bourgeois.

Two distinct social groups have their bodies tattooed today. One subculture of the tattoo world surpasses and falls below social norms. On the other hand there is another group who also has tattoos, usually discrete and often hidden under clothing who belong to the wealthy elite. A snobbish elite collector may pay thousands of dollars to get tattoos by famous tattoo artists. Being tattooed is a primitive intensely personal form of collecting, Indeed I know of museum trustees who have been tattooed along with their adventurous curators as a form of intense titillation that the art on their walls cannot provide. I also know a wealthy and highly rock and roll song writer and producer who went to Japan to have himself tattooed from neck to toes as an act of rebellion and to identify himself with a popular culture disgusting to his bourgeois family. Tattoo collectors and tattoo artists represent an example of both positive and negative values because they combine a conflicting set of norms and values. The collectors hear about these famous tattoo artists through word of mouth in the tattoo culture or through the small media that covers the elite tattoo society.

For some of the people she met the tattoos were like a diary written on skin or else they were mottos such as “My truth is my path” or “The true couple” or “I will chase monsters for you”. The messages were signs of deep emotions, sometimes spiritual incantations, sometimes and a permanent tie to a loved other. Rita Martorell is a well brought up Catalan young woman whose pale skin has no tattoos. But she became increasingly fascinated by this group of alienated people covered with tattoos transferred to skin through a painful process than in itself was intense and sought a way to transport the symbols of their dreams and feelings to her drawings.

She was also attracted by the aesthetics of the drawings themselves and thought that uniting them with her figurative drawings she could communicate something new and contemporary. The drawings themselves were intimate scenes of nudes; the tattoos were personal and intimate as well. The irony of making an image that fused her drawings of bodies with drawings on bodies appealed to her as well. Her studies in graphic arts and new media prepared her with the technical tools she needed to find a way to achieve her goal.

Those who have tattoos are just like anyone else – except for the fact that they wish to stand out and broadcast who they are. Those with tattoos are not afraid to show them, as they put them on their body to let others know who they are and what they are about. Most who decide to look into the psychology of those with tattoos seem to associate them as criminals and clan, or paying homage to the dearly departed. The psychologist who studies those with tattoos will normally try to get into their frame of mind, which is hard to do. For hundreds of years tattoos have always been a question from a psychological standpoint, with most people associating tattoos in the past with criminals. Even though criminals may have tattoos, there are just as many if not more people out there who are some of the friendliest people in the world who have them as well. To look at tattoos from a psychological standpoint can sometimes be hypocritical. Although those who don’t have tattoos will try and figure out why someone would want them, it can still be considered a psychological point of view. Those who have tattoos had a reason for getting them.

These motives constitute their secret lives. The procedure involves a procedure associated with pain that it is impossible for observers not to imagine. Tattoos often commemorate an important personal experience. Probably the most documented and understood of the magically charged tribal tattoos was for the purpose of love spells and charms. Tattoo magicians would mix special herbs and potent concoctions to their dyes and would apply the tattoo to a small, generally hidden area to activate the magic. These tattoos were kept hidden because it would be foolish for an old married woman to go around wearing the marks of a foolish youth.

The earliest tattoos found are more than 5,000 years old. In 1991, a 5,300-year-old mummy was discovered in the Alps. He had more than 50 tattoos on various parts of his body, and he is the oldest human ever found to have tattoos. The rationale of tattoos has differed from one culture to another during the centuries. According to history, Egyptians used tattoos to differentiate slaves and peasants. Tattoos spread to China and then to Greece around 2,000 B.C. where they were used as a mode of communication between spies.

Tattooing has been practiced in Japan and other Asian countries for thousands of years. The first written record of tattooing in Japan was found in a history of the Chinese Dynasty from the year 297 A.D. Today in Japan, tattooing is considered taboo, because many of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, wear tattoos. Today in Europe and the Americas tattoos are a mark of the 21st century and the merging of social and ethnic groups. . It estimated that more than 25 percent of people under 30 are inking their skin. Personal expression, youthful impulsiveness, drunken mistake there are murky risks to one’s health and to many represent a deliberate if not pathological self desecration. At a most basic and benign level, perhaps tattooing and piercing are simply forms of self-expression, a means of marking ourselves in a society that fosters, both wittingly and unwittingly. Postmodernists might argue that this self-marking is a means of asserting mastery and control over our bodies, and anchoring ourselves, quite literally during a time of life when the only constant is change.

From getting attention to having a badge of honor, from identifying with a group to a badge of social rejection, there are many symbolic tattoos which represent a loved one, living or passed away or represent religious affiliations including crosses and the face of Jesus or Mary or military tattoos representing patriotism. So perhaps it is not self-mutilation, but rather self enhancement and adornment, a means of saying "I am' in a way that is heard in a world in which individual identity is submerged in the mass. It is a kind of ostentatious permanent body adornment which attracts attention in the way jewelry does. Tattoos and piercings may demonstrate loyalty, affiliation or be a ritualistic rite of passage. For some, it may simply be the rush of adrenaline that accompanies a self-chosen and self-controlled moment of physical pain the viewer empathetically identifies with as a voyeur.

The word Tattoo is said to have two major derivations from the Polynesian word ‘Ta’ which means ‘striking something’ and the Tahitian word ‘Tatau’ which means ‘to mark something’.   The history of tattoo began over 5000 years ago and it changes and diversifies as much as the people who wear them. Tattoos are created by inserting colored materials beneath the skins surface. The first tattoos probably were created by accident.   Someone had a small wound, and rubbed it with a hand that was dirty with soot and ashes from the fire, once the wound had healed; they saw that a mark stayed permanently.

Tattoos, body piercings, and other forms of body modification have existed among different cultures since humans have walked the earth. While these body alterations may have been looked favorably upon in ancient societies, in our current culture many automatically think negative thoughts. The association of tattoos with non comformity is such that the actress Angelina Jolie proudly exhibits her tattooed arms in formal photographs.

While in France she became an avid film fan, and cinema remained a central interest when she returned to Barcelona she began to think of film as an inspiration for her work because of its ability to evoke strong emotions. Scenes, dialogue, music more immediate than collage. Trouhgh collage she first introduced images that she developed in her compositions. The tattooed figures are actually a form of digital collage which permits the photographed figures to be superimposed on the photographed images of her original drawings. The result suggests ghostly figures emerging from the drawn bodies like spirits floating as the spirit of the body of the dead Conde Orgaz rises to heaven in El Greco’s famous painting in the Escorial.

Today tattooing has become a centerpiece of popular culture. The international bestseller The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a recent cinema sensation. The heroine, an abused computer hacker, has her entire back tattooed with an elaborate dragon that is both beautiful and repellent as she is herself. Tattooing was once believed to be on the outskirts of society only belonging to bikers, sailors, circus freaks, etc. Since the practice has been accepted by those in the upper and lower classes of society there has been a merge in acceptance, and that is how something fits into popular culture. popular culture is neither an authentic working class culture nor a culture imposed by the culture industries, but what the Marxist critic Gramsci would call a “compromise equilibrium” between the two; a contradictory mix of forces from both below and above; both commercial and authentic, marked by both resistance and incorporation.
The current fascination with tattoos is reflected in the popularity of Justin Spring’s new book Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade , It is the story of a lifelong rebel's courage, creativity and ultimate sadness. After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicago’s notorious South State Street, as Phil Sparrow, he chronicled tattooing in America. Under his own name, he published "Dear Sammy," his correspondence with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, plus two mystery novels in which the pair was characters, and a memoir, "Chapters from an Autobiography."Steward compiled a “Stud File," index cards of his every sexual contact - almost 5,000 - with names, anatomical notes and comments. His double life as a serious professor and a talented and largely unknown, writer, artist, photographer, and sexual outlaw who was also known a tattoo artist Phil Sparrow and pornographer Phil Andros is an exercise in covert identities that permitted him entry into the transgressive world of bikers and sailors he met as a tattoo artist.

Thus the very idea of the tattooed body suggests transgression and implies the kind of sado masochistic imagery once confined to religious icons of crucifixions, martyrdoms and flagellations. And indeed many of Martorell’s tattooed figures assume poses that suggest subservience if not bondage. .The combination of the depicted nudes with the actual tattooed bodies combines explicit with implicit bodies. . What she captures and what she leaves up to the viewer’s imagination is a potent balance. . Each viewer can complete the faces of their bodies reading the drawings as if they were reading a book. One is reminded of the last film of Stanley Kubrick Eyes Wide Shut which suggests a double interpretation of what happens in the film, which may represent excursions into the sado masochistic netherworld or simply the mutual fantasy of a married couple. This is the type of projection and irresolution that Martorell’s loaded imagery suggests.

Enigma was a surrealist goal that she continues to pursue in works we know are constructed from actual photographed people and places. What happens in the beds Rita Martorell photographs or in the lives of the tattooed people whose secret world she enters is up to us to imagine. What is seen depends in the final analysis on the contents of the individual viewer’s subconscious fears and desires.


Barbara ROSE